Taking care of birds over the winter

In winter, feeding the birds is only half the job – you have to give them water too, not only to drink but also to bathe in, and once you are attracting a regular crowd of feathered friends, you need to pay attention to hygiene as well, says wild animal charity Aspas.

It is best to feed birds every day at a specific time, rather than putting a great mass of bird food out every two to three days. And when deciding what to feed, remember that left to herself, Mother Nature feeds birds very well.

Human intervention is only required because so much land has been built over or ploughed up for agriculture. So only feed in the very coldest months, do not give unnatural foods such as cooked animal fats, spices, roasted salted peanuts, dried coconut, or dried bread.

Stick to uncooked seeds (especially black sunflower tournesol noir), nuts, fruits and berries. Crush large nuts, but avoid wheat, dried peas, beans and lentils as too many pigeons come, stopping small birds.

Make sure feeding stations are out of reach of predators, who are also hungry in winter, and vary the grille sizes so larger species do not elbow smaller ones out of the canteen.

When it comes to water, make sure drinking water is fresh each day and does not freeze solid. This is vital for shallow bird baths.

Hygiene is also vital. A large number of birds feeding at the one table means viruses and infestations can spread rapidly. Ensure feeding and drinking equipment is thoroughly cleaned at least once a week.

Birds choose spring nesting sites well in advance, so January is a good month to install some new ones and to clean and disinfect any used ones in the garden.

But, of course, planting trees is an even better way of providing nesting space for birds. Think about fruit and nut trees, and remember holly berries are a good source of winter food for birds.

Leave part of your garden to go back to nature and become a haven for birds, insects, hedgehogs and all kinds of wild flora and fauna – it also provides natural food for birds.

Finally, leave the birds in your garden alone. Observe them from a distance, but do not try to catch them, tame them, train them or otherwise interfere. Their whole beauty is that they are wild.

For more on Aspas, the national charity protecting wild animals, or to join and receive a free copy of its magazine, Goupil, visit: www.aspas-nature.org; call: 04 75 25 10 00 or write to: ASPAS, BP 505 – 26401 CREST CEDEX

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